Planning to tie the knot this year? Ask anyone in the throes of prepping for a wedding and they will tell you how stressful wedding planning can be. Add in budget woes, and stress levels start to skyrocket.
Even if you aren’t looking to throw the most ostentatious party of the year, even the most simple weddings aren’t the casual city-hall affair they used to be. In 2021, couples spent an average of $34,000 on their weddings according to this recent report from The Knot, with roughly 30% of that budget ($10,700) devoted to paying for the wedding venue alone.
But if that sounds extravagant (and a bit irresponsible for one single day of your life), not to worry. A little resourcefulness can go a long way when it comes to reducing the cost of your wedding. And we promise, it is actually possible to find a venue that won’t cost the equivalent of a down payment on a house. In fact, some of these are free wedding venues.
10 Places to Tie the Knot and Some Are Free Venues
So if you’re itching to cross “wedding venue” off your to-do list, keep reading. Here’s our list of ideas for affordable and free wedding venues to help you plan your nuptials without breaking the bank.
1. A Friends’ Scenic Property
Having friends with property is the 2022 equivalent of having friends with tickets to your favorite (insert sports team or music artist here) event. And if they’re really good friends, they might just let you say “I do” plus have the after-party on their property.
Maybe they have a wide open field that would work well with a rented tent, or an old barn you could decorate into the shabby-chic venue of your dreams. Ponds or pools also make for a great backdrop for wedding photos of you and your sweetheart.
If you want to use your friend’s place as a free wedding venue, be sure to run through a list of logistics with them — paying special attention to things like parking, bathrooms, catering, seating, etc. Be open to hiring portable restrooms so your guests aren’t in and out of your friend’s house using the bathroom. You’ll also want to consider where your guests will stay afterwards. While camping out on the property might be an option for some, great grandma Lucille might not be down to pitch a tent for the night. Last but not least, be sure your friends are actually okay with it. You wouldn’t want the savings on your venue to cost you a friendship!
Expert tip: Don’t have a friend who can host your event? Reach out to local Airbnb hosts to see if there’s an affordable rental that would allow you to celebrate in style.
2. Your Backyard
There’s no place like home — and you definitely can’t beat the cost of getting married in your own backyard. While this might not work in a small apartment with a tiny square of common space outside, it could definitely work for anyone who’s recently bought a house.
A lot of the same logistical questions apply when planning a wedding at your home as for a friend’s space, and you’ll want to consider renting things like chairs and tables, as well as setting up space for a caterer (if you plan to also have the reception chez vous), parking logistics, and which bathrooms your guests can use. You might also consider the noise factor and how (or if) this will affect your neighbors at all.
Expert tip: Another option for those simply looking for a place to say “I do” is to have the ceremony at your place then make a reservation at your favorite restaurant or nightclub for the reception.
3. Instagram-Worthy Public Landmarks
There’s a reason people are always snapping photos at public landmarks — they’re gorgeous and often some of the most scenic spots around. Depending on how you want to do things, having a wedding ceremony at one of these locations might be one of the cheapest and most memorable places to tie the knot.
The key to this free wedding venue option is to do your research. Once you and your beloved have made a list of your favorite local landmarks, start making calls to find out who’s in charge at each location. While larger groups (or receptions with food and booze) will likely require a permit, chances are small parties or just a few witnesses watching you say your vows won’t be a problem (or cost a dime).
4. A Favorite Beach
Much like public landmarks, having your wedding at a beach is another great low-cost or free way to take advantage of public space. If you live on the coast or near a picturesque lake, and are looking for a casual outdoorsy venue, then this local bit of waterfront real estate might just be the ticket.
Be sure to get in touch with the local governing body for the beach of your choice, and reach out well in advance of your wedding date. Since some of these places might require a reservation (or even collect a rental fee) it’s good to get on their list before another thrifty couple beats you to it.
5. Local State Parks
Looking for an incredible outdoor venue that doesn’t cost a fortune? Then you might just want to consider renting out some space in your favorite local state park. The cost of renting a pavilion or private corner at local state parks can vary quite a bit depending on your dates and guest count, so it’s a good thing to start planning in advance.
For example, renting a pavilion at a small state park in New York might cost a mere $25, while booking a larger space at a more popular state park in Colorado could cost up to $300.
Expert tip: If you have the budget, and are considering a casual elopement-style wedding, you might just want to start your venue search by hiring an elopement photographer, since they often have all the local beta on epic outdoor locations for your big day.
6. Beautiful Botanical Gardens
If you’re looking for an outdoor venue that’s a bit more upscale (and don’t mind spending more to get it), then look into renting space at a botanical garden. Botanical gardens offer amazing backdrops for your wedding photos, not to mention dazzling settings for your guests to explore and then toast the newlyweds.
This list from the WeddingWire offers botanical gardens to choose from, with many of them starting at $2k to $5k to rent, depending on the time of year and number of guests. Once you’ve made a list of your favorite public gardens, start calling them up for details. Since this is a more common venue choice than others on this list, it’s a good idea to make arrangements well in advance of your wedding date.
7. Your Alma Mater
Did you meet your sweetheart in college? Then why not ask your alma mater if they could host your big day? Outdoor common areas, pavilions, even sports fields all make for great event venues, and if you offer to send them a few pictures for their marketing materials — they’ll probably jump at the chance to be part of your love story. It may require a board meeting, but don’t let that stop you. Schools love supporting their alumni, not to mention free publicity. Policies vary, and some may not allow festivities on expensive turf. Inquire at your school to see about the rules.
Since hosting your wedding at a school is a bit unconventional, be sure to reach out in advance to get permission and find out what kinds of special permits or event insurance you may need. Keep in mind that this type of venue is probably best suited for those who aren’t looking to get too rowdy at the reception party. Or at least move it to a favorite college hangout.
Expert tip: Have a local college you love that isn’t your alma mater? You might still be able to rent some space for your big day. At Gardner Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, couples can marry in the chapel, in the rose garden or by the pond. They just need to pay a small housekeeping fee ($40 to $200, depending on venue), according to a spokesperson.
8. A Famous Street Corner
If you book a restaurant for your reception, your city may allow you to block off part of the street for your ceremony. It may also require a fee and permit.
If you notify them ahead of time, the local newspaper may even cover your celebration — which would be a cool memento to show your grandchildren one day.
Someone we know recently got married in front of a Florida courthouse surrounded by restaurants and nightlife. After a simple ceremony, they walked across the street for dinner, then enjoyed the nightlife at a nearby brewery.
It’s cheap for you, and the city benefits from the exposure. Just keep in mind that city prices for this can vary greatly, and many cities will charge for use of public spaces (like streets and sidewalks) by the hour.
9. A Rustic Farm or Ranch
In the era of luxe rental and glamping companies like Hipcamp, there are a lot of landowners looking to rent their property for a bit of extra cash. If you have a local farm or ranch that’s caught your eye as the perfect venue, it can’t hurt to ask the owner if they’d be open to renting you some space for your big day.
If hosting a wedding is new to them, be sure to map out a list of all the logistical details (parking, catering, bathrooms, music, etc.) to be sure everyone’s on the same page with regards to how the space will be used. If they already host guests on platforms like Hipcamp or Vrbo, you might even be able to negotiate a deal whereby some of your guests can stay onsight after the festivities.
10. Meeting Halls & Churches
If you plan to have a small, relatively tame reception and want to get married in a church, some places of worship might let you use their gathering spaces for the afterparty. Sometimes all it takes is to be a member of that particular church or organization, and pay a small cleaning fee to gain access to the space for your wedding ceremony and reception. You may also need to sign a contract and have an appointed “director” or someone who’s in charge of helping you coordinate the wedding planning. You can also save on this expense by enlisting a family member to help out.
Just remember that the price per church or meeting hall can vary, so if your first choice seems really expensive —keep moving down your list, and like everything else — be willing to shop around.
Contributor Larissa Runkle frequently writes on finance, real estate, and lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder. Writer Kelli H. Clevenger contributed to this story.